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History of the Romanian Lexiconfree

History of the Romanian Lexiconfree

  • Maria IliescuMaria IliescuNational Institute for Research and Development in Informatics


The history of the Romanian lexicon has been divided into periods in various ways: (a) the Latin of the Danubian provinces (from around the 2nd to around the 7th centuries); (b) common Romanian (româna comună, from 8th to 11th/12th centuries); and (c) preliterary Romanian (the centuries this period covers vary, from the 8th century at the earliest to the 14th century at the latest) and the rise of literary Romanian (start of the 16th century–1780). This latter period includes the most important stages in the process of unification and modernization of Romanian, and thus of its lexicon; (d) Modern Romanian (1780–1945); and (e) the contemporary era, including the socialist period (1945–1989) and current Romanian.

A stand-alone section 7 discusses the numerous external influences of varied and complex origin: geographic contact, bi- and multilingualism, foreign occupation and/or domination, and last but not least, the strengthening of national conscience followed or accompanied by a cultural and political paradigm shift.


  • Language Families/Areas/Contact

1. Introduction

‘Vocabulary’ or ‘lexis’ means the entirety of the words of a language at a given moment in its historical development.

If we accept this definition, it follows that lexis can only be studied together with the history of the language in question. The problems to be tackled when describing lexis are set out clearly by Arnulf Stefenelli (1996, p. 368), who has a particular interest in Romance languages. The discrepancies between the vocabulary of Latin and that of the Romance languages can be explained in part by general factors which contribute to the retention or loss of lexemes (Iliescu, 2006, pp. 109–119; Stefenelli, 1996, pp. 379–384), and also by the extralinguistic factors which enabled the formation and differentiation of the Romance languages. The ‘factors’ are the substrates, superstrates, and adstrates of Latin, inter-Romance loans, and finally proto-Romance innovations which occurred in parallel or specifically in one or more regions.

Vocabulary does not contribute to the structure of a language but rather to the typology of contact linguistics. It demonstrates both the political, economic, and cultural influences integrated (and absorbed) over time and, via the connotations of the neologisms which become established, we may detect the attitude of the linguistic community toward those who introduce loans (Iliescu, 2007, pp. 196–197).

Dictionaries aside, students of the Romanian lexis can draw on several essential reference works, among the most important is Alexandru Graur (1954) and Marius Sala et al. (1988). In the latter work, the linguistic corpus analyzed was around 2,500 words for each language cited, and the parameter of frequency was also considered.

2. The Latin of the Danubian Provinces

Romanian developed over a large area to the south and north of the Danube, corresponding to the former Roman provinces of Moesia Superior and Moesia Inferior as well as Dacia and Pannonia Inferior. Two stages can be identified within the period of the Danubian provinces: (a) the start of the process of Romanization of Moesia (1st century) and Dacia (2nd century), characterized by initial contact between speakers of indigenous languages and Romans who spoke (vulgar) Latin, which served as a lingua franca between the different peoples of the empire (Graur, 1963, p. 11); (b) Romanization proper (language, religion, customs, etc.) from the 4th to the 6th centuries, which occurred in parallel with the fall of Rome.

The indigenous people of the area were the Getae (a Thracian tribe), whose presence in the area of the lower Danube, the Black Sea, and the Balkan mountains is attested as far back as the 6th century bc by Herodotus. From the 1st century ad, historians writing in Latin (Pliny the Elder and Tacitus) named the area Dacia after the Dacians, tribes which arrived in the 3rd–2nd century bc from the north and were heavily influenced by Iranians. (For the vagaries of the interpretation of the historical texts, see Iliescu, 1971, 2008, pp. 123–131.) Research has shown that around 2,000 Latin lexical items, terms in common use among most Latin-speaking peoples, were inherited by the various Romance languages including Romanian. Fischer (1985, p. 130) has created a list of pan-Romance words inherited by all Romance languages, and a list of 136–137 pan-Romance words absent only in Romanian.

On the other hand, there are a few Latin lexemes that have been preserved (almost) exclusively in Romanian, such as ied ‘kid, young goat’ < Lat. haedus, which elsewhere survives only in Sardinian édu and whose vitality in the Latin of the Balkans is attested by Albanian eth. The dialects yield some further Latin words which live on elsewhere in Romance but not in standard Romanian: for example, merez/mirez/mereaz in the northern dialects of Daco-Romanian, Aromanian omiridzu, Megleno-Romanian mirin(d)z ‘shade in which the cattle rests during the hottest part of the day’ (< Lat. meridie(m), Meyer-Lübke, 1935, p. 5530; Teaha, 2005, pp. 231–233).1 Sala (1999, pp. 43–47) covers the semantics of inherited lexical items. In the 7th century, two factors contributed to give Romanian its unique position within the Romance languages: the settlement of the Slavs in the Balkans and the status of Greek as an official language of the Eastern Roman Empire (Fischer, 1985, pp. 196–197).

To understand the rapid process of Romanization (given that Emperor Trajan had conquered Dacia in 105–107 and Emperor Aurelian abandoned it in 275), we must consider the different demographic and practical characteristics of Dacia in these two centuries: first, the absence or, more precisely, the disappearance of a large part of the male population due to heavy losses in the wars against the Romans. This included the aristocracy, who played an important role due to their prestige and higher level of culture. Another factor was the simultaneous presence of a significant number of colonizers who were Roman in language and customs, who came ex toto orbe romano [from the whole Roman world] and spoke different languages. The young soldiers who made up the Dacian units of the Roman army spoke primarily Latin and this was also the language of cultural and commercial contacts with the Byzantine/Roman Empire to the south of the Danube, a region which was heavily Romanized. As for religion, Christianization was closely linked to Romanization. From Rome, Christianity spread in Dacia first of all to the cities, where the colonizers from different regions of the empire lived, and after the destruction of the cities due to the invasion of migrant peoples, and then to the countryside. This is why the lexical items denoting the most important Christian notions are of Latin origin (e.g., cruce ‘cross’ < Lat. crux; biserică, ‘church’ < Lat. basilica).

It is also noteworthy that before colonization by Rome, the indigenous people seemingly adopted numerous Greek lexemes given the importance of Greek in southeastern Europe, the existence of large Greek cities in Dobruja, and the indigenous population’s contact with the population on the left bank of the Danube (Graur, 1963, p. 18).

Elements of Dacian origin (and thus deriving from a Romanian substrate), most notably lexis, started to penetrate the spoken Latin of the Danubian provinces in the early 2nd century following the conquest of Dacia by Emperor Trajan.

Dacian (or Thraco-Dacian) is an Indo-European language of the satem type; the extremely limited data allow no more than hypotheses about influence on Romanian in its emergent stage, between the 8th and 10th centuries. Also considering the context of the other Romance languages, “we can speak of a distinct Romanian language from the 8th century onwards, characterized by features which distinguish it from other languages deriving from Latin and which, allowing for normal linguistic changes, are maintained to this day” (Fischer, 1985, p. 210, author’s translation).

We have only very limited knowledge of Dacian vocabulary: 57 plant names, proper nouns or place names. Of the 57 plant names, most are not of Dacian origin (Poghirc, 1969, pp. 314–315). The various dictionaries and works which give (Thraco‑)Dacian as the etymological source or simply the substrate of a Romanian lexeme do so on the basis of comparison with other Indo-European languages, or at least Balkan languages, most often Albanian. For these comparisons to be relevant, it is important to compare the former stages and not the modern stages of the languages.

Poghirc (1969) lists, with meticulous details of the proposed etymology, a hundred frequent lexemes in modern Romanian, which are probably or possibly of indigenous origin. G. Brâncuş (2007, p. 176) considers that, according to his own statistics, 89 lexemes are certain to be of indigenous origin, of which 38 belong to the list of ‘basic Romanian lexical items’ (Graur, 1954). Sala (1999, p. 94) adds a further 17 lexemes to this list. A fairly large number of these words are absent from Romanian dialects south of the Danube.

The words in these two lists concern the lexical fields of everyday language, primarily that of rural life (the world of agriculture, livestock breeding, and transhumance); landscape; body parts of animate beings, and humans in particular; names of animals and plants; names of trees; names of animate beings (humans and animals); and names of tools.

In many cases, alongside the terms thought to be indigenous, parasynonyms of Latin origin have been retained (cf. acru ‘sour’ derived from Latin alongside indigenous searbăd ‘tasteless, insipid’, and păstor/ păcurar < Lat. pastor/pecorarius ‘shepherd’ derived from Latin alongside indigenous baci ‘(head) shepherd’).

M. Sala (1999, p. 97) mentions some of the reasons “which pushed speakers to adopt a new term while maintaining the old term.” In general, Latin terms have a more generic meaning, while the meaning of the terms thought to derive from the substrate is more specific (Sala, 1999, pp. 97–98). The weight of Thraco-Dacian lexis in the representative vocabulary of Romanian is approximately the same as that of the substrate in other Romance languages (Sala, 1999, p. 98). Analysis of the etymologies given by contemporary dictionaries for 40 lexemes, which should be, could be, or are considered indigenous and thus of Dacian origin, taken from the list by Poghirc (1969), all also present in a larger list (Brâncuş, 1983), and which remain frequent and commonplace today, demonstrates the unreliability of their etymologies: abur ‘steam, vapor’, balegă ‘dung’, baltă ‘marsh’, brad ‘fir (tree)’, brâu ‘belt’, (a se) bucura (le seul verbe) ‘to rejoice’, buză ‘lip’, căciulă ‘fur cap’, cătun ‘hamlet’ ceafă ‘nape of the neck’, cioară ‘crow’, cioc ‘beak’, copac ‘tree’, copil ‘child’, fărâmă ‘crumb, bit’, fluier ‘(shepherd’s) flute’, gard ‘fence’, gata (le seul adverbe)’ ‘ready, finished’ ghimpe ‘thorn, prickle’, groapă ‘pit, hole’, grumaz ‘neck’, guşă ‘goitre’, jumătate ‘half’, mal ‘shore, bank’, mare ‘sea’, mazăre ‘peas’ măgar ‘donkey’, măgură ‘hill’, mărar ‘dill’, mânz ‘foal, colt’, moş ‘old man’, mugur ‘bud’, raţă ’duck’ strungă ‘sheepfold’, şopârlă ‘lizard’, ţap ‘he-goat’, ţarc ‘fold, pen’, urdă ‘soft cow cheese’, vatră ‘fireplace’, zgardă ‘dog collar’.

Only two lexemes have an etymology considered ‘unknown’ (urdă ‘soft cow cheese’ and jumătate ‘half’); one lexeme (guşă ‘goitre’) is thought to derive from a nonattested Latin term; six lexemes are given Albanian or Slavic references (baltă ‘marsh’, cătun, ‘hamlet’, gard ‘fence’, măgar ‘donkey’, ţap ‘he-goat’); for one lexeme (ţarc ‘fold, pen’), the Albanian reference is accompanied by a reference to a Greek lexeme; and for the other 32 lexemes, only Albanian is given as a reference.

Graur (1963, p. 35, cited in Brâncuş, 2008, p. 259, and following Philippide’s view) considers that most Romanian lexemes found in Albanian “must be attributed to the common substrate of Romanian and Albanian.” The “basic Romanian lexicon” of Graur (1954) includes the following lexemes as indigenous: abur ‘steam, vapor’, brad ‘fir (tree)’, (a se) bucura ‘to be glad’, buză ‘lip’, cioară ‘crow’, copac ‘tree’, copil ‘child’, gard ‘fence’, (a) găta ‘to finish’, ghimpe ‘thorn, prickle’, groapă ‘pit, gap’ jumătate ‘half’, mal ‘shore, bank’, mazăre, ‘peas’ mânz ‘foal, colt’, moş ‘old man’, mugure ‘bud’, murg ‘dark bay (horse)’, spuză ‘hot ashes’, şopârlă ‘lizard’, ţap ‘he-goat’, ţarc ‘fold, pen’, vatră ‘fireplace’.

3. Common Romanian (Proto-Romanian)

Common Romanian is the oldest period in the history of Romanian, during which it was spoken to the north and south of the Danube, and which preceded the split by which the three major dialects spoken to the south of the Danube (Aromanian or Macedo-Romanian, Megleno-Romanian, and Istro-Romanian) broke away from Daco-Romanian (Avram, 2001, p. 470). This separation is thought to be due to the settlement of Slavs (at the end of the 6th and start of the 7th centuries) to the north and south of the Danube (Bolocan, 1969, p. 372). At this time, Romanian was spoken to the north and south of the Danube, and initial contact with Slavic took place. This contact took various forms: Slavic served as a superstrate in its contribution to the Romanian language at its initial stage of development, and as an adstrate of various kinds in its contribution to Romanian as a language already established and, in particular, to its vocabulary. A distinction must be made between (oral) Old Slavic and Old Church Slavonic (a language used by educated people, the Church, and chancelleries in eastern Slavic-speaking areas: Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, and Serbia).

The dates of the Common Romanian period are controversial and vary according to author. The language of this period can only be reconstructed by comparison with dialects south of the Danube (i.e., by means of their common features).

The start of Common Romanian is considered to lie between the 5th and 8th centuries. The 10th century is generally considered to be the end date, when Aromanian split off from Daco-Romanian. However, G. Ivănescu’s (2000) view is that only the first period of Common Romanian came to an end in the 8th century. He suggests that the second period ended in the 13th/14th centuries, following the breakaway of all dialects south of the Danube.

3.1 Old Slavic

Lexemes which exist in all four Romanian dialects and which correspond phonetically and semantically to an Old Slavic lexeme are considered to be of Old Slavic origin. The first mentions of the Slavs, then residing in the upper Dniepr area, date back to the 4th century. A great migratory movement (between 500 and 700 ad) took them north, west, and south. The southern group headed for the Balkans and aimed for the Byzantine Empire. They crossed and occupied Dacia, where a Romance language with a Dacian substrate which was to become Romanian was spoken, following a period of Slavic-Romanian bilingualism.

Romanian’s oldest contact with Old Slavic dates back to the 7th to 11th centuries. This was when lexemes (as well as phonemes, suffixes, and prefixes) of Slavic origin entered all Romanian dialects. It is, however, likely that loans from Old Slavic did not enter Romanian vocabulary before the 8th century, as the resulting Romanian lexemes show certain phonetic features which are also characteristic for Slavic lexemes up to that time. However, the Old Slavic borrowings do not show the phonetic shifts which characterized the passage from Latin to Romanian. Bochmann (2010, p. 39) illustrates this situation, showing that in lexemes of Slavic origin (a) tonic a is retained before nasals, whereas it shifts to â (î) [ɨ] in lexemes of Latin origin (e.g., Lat. lana(m) > Ro. lână ‘wool’, manu(m) > mână ‘hand’, campus > câmp ‘field’, cantare > (a) cânta ‘to sing’ vs. Sl. hrana > Ro. hrană ‘food, nourishment’, Sl. blana > Ro. blană ‘fur’), though there are some exceptions, as a small number of Slavicisms do show â, and the Slavic origin of some of these, such as jupân, ‘boyard, patron’ or stăpân ‘master’ (< Sl. županŭ and stopanŭ), has been questioned because of [ɨ], but there are examples which are beyond any doubt, such as smântână ‘cream’ < Sl. *sŭmętana, from sŭmętati ‘to mix’ or sfânt ‘holy, divine’ < Sl. svętŭ (though crossing with Lat. sanctus cannot be excluded); and (b) intervocalic l is retained, while it shifts to r in lexemes of Latin etymology such as Lat. mola > Ro. moară ‘mill’, to be contrasted with Sl. mila > Ro. milă ‘pity, compassion’, Sl. sila > Ro. silă ‘compulsion, constraint’ (for details, see section 7.1.1).

3.2 Old Church Slavonic

At the same time as the Old Slavic influence, lexical loans from Old Church Slavonic entered Daco-Romanian via the elite. In the Romanian principalities, Old Church Slavonic was the literary variant of written Old Slavic, and it exerted a great influence on the Romanian lexicon. It was used as the language of Orthodox Christian rites and of the ecclesiastical administration. The creation of the base of Old Church Slavonic, derived from Old Bulgarian, was the work of the Slavic apostles Method and Cyril. It was a functional language, considered ‘holy’, like Latin in the West, and was rich in terminology and stylistic norms. Old Church Slavonic was also the language of various notarial and other legal documents (pravile) and historical chronicles (for details, see section 7.1.2).

The role of Slavonic for Romanian is similar to that of medieval Latin for western Romance languages. The long-term coexistence of a Slavic written language (Old Church Slavonic) and a Romance oral language (Romanian) is a feature specific to the history of Romanian lexis which explains why Old Romanian literary texts used the Cyrillic alphabet (for the different types of influences from Slavic languages, see section 7.1).

3.3 Germanic Languages

In the Early Middle Ages, the area which would later become Romania was traversed by various migrating peoples, some of whom were of Germanic origin.

Between the late 3rd and the 6th centuries, after Dacia was abandoned by the Roman authorities (275 ad), and until the victory of the Longobards (allies of the Avars) over the Gepids (in 566), the following tribes were present on Romanian territory to the north of the Danube: the Marcomanni, the Goths (in particular, the Visigoths), the Vandals, the Langobards, and the Gepids. In the 6th century, the Gepids even ruled part of Transylvania and Oltenia, and brought several lexemes into the Romanian language (see section 7.3.1).

3.3.1 German

Over time, various waves of German speakers settled on Romanian territory, three of which are particularly noteworthy (Cujba, 1998).

In the 12th century, the Hungarian King Geza II settled “Saxon” colonizers, primarily from the Rhineland, in southern and northeastern Transylvania (around the cities of Alba Iulia and Orăştie) to work the land and protect the frontiers of his empire. Other colonies took shape in Sibiu, in the Rodna area and in the city of Bistriţa, with the city of Braşov as their economic center. The political unity of all these German speakers was cemented in the 16th century by the Reformation which they all embraced.

At the start of the 18th century, when Banat became part of the Austrian Empire, German speakers from Austria and several regions of Germany (from the Pfalz (Palatinate), the Rhineland, Swabia etc.) settled in the region. They are known by the generic name şvabi ‘Swabians’.

The third wave settled, from the late 18th century, in Bucovina, which belonged to Austria (1775–1918). Settlers immigrating under Austrian rule were speakers of Austro-Bavarian dialects, but, again, several German dialects were also represented (from Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg, Trier) (Crößmann-Osterloh, 1985, p. 75).

The influence of all these groups of German speakers on Romanian is primarily lexical, and particularly concerns the domain of material and artisan life. It is also noteworthy that a fairly significant number of Standard German lexemes have been borrowed by Romanian, and these lexemes often have multiple etymologies (see section 7.3).

3.4 Greek

Some Greek borrowings entered Romanian via Latin, which in some cases was the Latin spoken in the Danubian provinces, Moesia and Dacia, an area conquered by the Romans in the 1st and 2nd centuries. This aside, a distinction must be drawn between direct and indirect Greek loans.

Direct loans (such as a agonisi ‘to save up’, arvună ‘earnest (money)’, folos ‘use, utility’, prisos ‘surplus, abundance’) result from the official status of Greek in the Eastern Roman Empire in the 6th and 7th centuries (Fischer, 1985, pp. 196–197). Between 971 and 1185, Dobruja was ruled once again by the Byzantine Empire, which stretched as far as the Danube, and thus as far as the Romanian lands.

Indirect loans from Greek (such as busuioc, ‘basil’, comoară ‘treasure’, corabie ‘(sailing) vessel, ship’, drum ‘road’, livadă ‘orchard’, sfeclă ‘beet (root)’) entered into Romanian via Slavic (Peţan, 2001, p. 241). The intermediacy of Slavic is guaranteed by sound change in several cases such as ieftin from Grk. euthinós via South Sl. jevtin, as witnessed by eu- > je- obeying the Proto-Slavic elimination of falling diphthongs which is also seen in iad ‘hell’ < Grk. ádēs via jadŭ. Stress shift is indicative of borrowing through Slavic in monah ‘monk’, since its phonology replicates that of OSl. monáchŭ, in turn from Grk. monachós.

Some of the former meanings have been retained in Romanian to this day, even though they no longer exist in Modern Greek. Indirect Hellenisms also resulted in a significant number of everyday Romanian terms such as ieftin ‘cheap’, (a) mirosi ‘to smell’, (a) părăsi ‘to leave, to quit’, (a) sosi ‘to arrive’, măcar ‘at least’, etc. (for the changes in meanings and semantic fields, see Peţan, 2001, p. 242). According to H. Mihăescu (1966), in total, Byzantine loans in the 7th to 14th centuries comprise 278 lexemes, of which only 22 came directly from Greek (see also section 7.2).

3.5 Turkish

Like Greek, Turkish influence was not limited to one single period of the development of Romanian vocabulary, and Turkish also exerted an influence on dialects south of the Danube.

Contact with Turkic speakers started between the 9th and 11th centuries when the Pechenegs and Cumans passed through the south of Romanian territory (Suciu, 2006, p. 192). Their influence is felt primarily in certain toponyms and anthroponyms. Particularly significant is the name of a family of future Romanian boyars: Basarab (Sala, 1999, p. 110).

The Turks entered the Balkan peninsula in the 14th century. The Romanian principalities were under their suzerainty for several centuries, giving rise to the older Turkic loans (15th to 17th centuries). It can be difficult to identify whether these lexemes are of Cuman or Turkish origin (cf. cioban ‘shepherd’, duşman ‘enemy’).

The influence of the Turkish spoken at the imperial Ottoman court was particularly great during the time of the Phanariots (18th century). The Turkish lexemes borrowed by Romanian during this period were not limited to the numerous domains referred to in section 7.5, but they also form part of the commonplace vocabulary, reflecting a higher standard of living than that of the Romanians of Moldova and Muntenia at the time.

Many Turkish lexemes entered Romanian indirectly via Polish, Serbian, Arabic, Modern Greek, and Persian, and many others found their way into the language by multiple routes (Bochmann, 2010, pp. 53–54; Sala, 1999, p. 112; Suciu, 2009, 2010). Some of the Turkish loans came via Greek, for example, saltea ‘mattress’ < MGrk. seltés < Trk. şilte, fistic ‘pistachio’ < MGrk. fistikí < Trk. fıstık (Suciu, 2006, pp. 230–234) (for details and examples, see section 7.5).

3.6 Hungarian

In the 10th to 11th centuries, the Hungarians occupied Pannonia and part of Transylvania and Moldova. The Romanian aristocracy, who had partly recognized the Hungarian crown, joined the dominant social stratum and thus contributed to the acceptance of Hungarian as a political language alongside Latin, the official language of the administration. Romanian–Hungarian reciprocal loans demonstrate the close contacts between the two peoples (Bochmann, 2010, pp. 47–48; Sala, 1999, pp. 110–111; for examples, see section 7.4).

The lexemes of Hungarian origin are not present in Romanian dialects south of the Danube.

4. Preliterary Romanian (8th–14th Centuries) and the Development of Literary Romanian (Start of 16th Century–1780)

This period includes the most important moments in the process of unification and modernization of Romanian, and thus, of its vocabulary (Gheţie, 1978). The period from 1532 to 1640 is considered the formation and consolidation phase of the various territorial/dialectal variants of literary Romanian (Gheţie, 2001, p. 429).

The political and administrative units of this period were feudal: cnezate (cf. Proto-Germanic kuningaz) were ruled by a sovereign cneaz ‘prince’ in Transylvania and Maramureş, while later, Voivodships ‘principalities’ were ruled by a Voivod, a prince-regent (cf. German Herzog). The important dates marking the start and end of this period, respectively, are the first decade of the 16th century (writing of Psaltirea Hurmuzaki ‘the Hurmuzaki psalter’) and 1780, the date of publication the Transylvanian School’s grammar Elementa linguae daco-romanae sive valachicae by Micu et al.

4.1 The First Texts in Romanian

The oldest known text in Romanian is a translation of the Psalms from an Old Church Slavonic source, Psaltirea Hurmuzaki (Mareş, 2000; Timotin, 2015a).

The first original text written in Romanian, from 1521, is a letter in which a certain Neacşu from Câmpulung informs Johannes Benkner, the mayor of Braşov, that Turkish troops are approaching Transylvania.

The first religious literary texts written in Romanian also date from the early 16th century. Several were first written in the Banat-Hunedoara region and were later copied in Moldova (Gheţie & Mareş, 2001, pp. 47–52).

The phonological and morphological system on which the language developing into Romanian was based had already taken shape (Schroeder, 1989, p. 325). These texts are known in Romanian philology as rhotacizing texts (because they show rhotacism of intervocalic n (vowel + n + vowel > vowel –(n) r – vowel: bire/binre for bine ‘good’). However, the exact date these original texts were written and the reason why they were written are not known. The influence of the Hussites, of the Reformation, and even domestic motives cannot be excluded (Bochmann, 2010, p. 74) The best-known rhotacizing texts are Codicele Voroneţean ‘the Codex of Voroneţ’, Psaltirea Scheiană ‘the (Sturdza-)Schenianu psalter’ (from the name of the owner), Psaltirea Voroneţiană ‘the Voroneţ monastery psalter’, and Psaltirea Hurmuzaki ‘the Hurmuzaki psalter’ (from the name of the donor).

At the end of the 16th century and the start of the 17th century, copies of the first popular literary texts (cărţi populare) appeared, comprising within a codice (codex) biographies of saints, legends, moralizing narratives, and the translation of popular ‘novels’. The oldest translations include the narratives Varlaam şi Ioasaf (‘Varlaam and Josaphat’) and Alexandria (the life of Alexander the Great). The Old Church Slavonic versions had already been in circulation since the 15th century in Moldova and Muntenia.

In the last quarter of the 16th century and above all at the start of the 17th century, other letters and legal documents were written in Romanian. These texts came from all regions of the country and were addressed both to private individuals and to the boyar chancelleries of Moldova and Muntenia and convents.

A source of interesting insights into the written and even the spoken Romanian of the period, and of examples of pragmatic communication, is the archives of the city of Bistriţa (northwestern Romania). The archives house letters received by mayors and different private residents of the towns and villages of Maramureş and Bucovina since 1592. All these texts could only be written in Romanian because the ‘Saxons’ who lived in Bistriţa had no knowledge of Old Church Slavonic (Bochmann, 2010, p. 72; Gheţie & Mareş, 2001).

4.2 The First Printed Texts

The oldest book published in Romanian is the Tetraevanghelul slavo-român (‘the Slavo-Romanian Tetraevangelion’), printed in Sibiu (1551–1553) under the influence of the Reformation.

Of great importance for the development of literary Romanian was the work of diacon ‘deacon’ Coresi who published the catechism Întrebarea creştinească ‘Questions on the Christian catechism’ in 1560 in Braşov, followed by other fundamental religious books in the period up to 1583Tetraevanghelul ‘the Tetraevangelion’ (1560–1561), Psaltirea ‘the Psalter’ (1568, 1570, 1577), Apostolul ‘The Apostle’ (1566)—and books of worship (Liturghierul ‘Book of Mass’, 1570), sermons (Cazanii ‘Homilies’, 1567, 1581), prayers (Molitvenic ‘Breviary’, 1567), and works on canon law, printed in some cases in Old Church Slavonic, but primarily in Romanian. Some were published both in Old Church Slavonic and Romanian (Gheţie & Mareş, 2001, pp. 104–125).

With the support of Archbishop Serafim and under the patronage of Transylvanian Voivod Bathory, the spread of Coresi’s books was impressive. Representatives of the voivods and prelates of Moldova and Muntenia came to Braşov to visit Coresi and buy his books. He thus created the first model for written Romanian.

The process of formation of literary Romanian can be considered to start with the appearance of the first Romanian literary texts in the 16th century and conclude with the publication of the first Romanian grammar, by Micu et al. (1980).

4.3 The Shift From Old Church Slavonic to Romanian

In civil, administrative, and also legal life, Romanian became established in the late 16th century. The Nomocanon, a Byzantine collection concerning canon, civil, and criminal law, written in Slavic, was already in circulation in Romanian in manuscript form in Muntenia and Moldova from the 15th century. By 1544, the text had been printed in Târgovişte, which is in Muntenia. In the 16th century, the first Romanian versions of religious and legal works such as Pravila ritorului Lucaci (‘Collection of laws of Lucaci’) were published (Slavic-Romanian bilingual text written in 1581 at Putna monastery in northern Moldova).

Despite this visible progress, Romanian only came to be used officially in the 17th century during the rule of the princes Vasile Lupu in Moldova (1634–1653) and Matei Basarab in Wallachia (1632–1654), who were keen to attract the middle class to the administration of the principalities. This political and cultural innovation gave rise to printing presses which published religious and legal works in Romanian and in Old Church Slavonic (in Iaşi, Govora, and Târgovişte). They also organized schools for the sons of boyars to learn state administration: This made a series of works in Romanian necessary, including Carte românească de învăţătură (‘Romanian book of learning’) (Iaşi, 1646) and a general manual Îndreptarea legii (1652) (‘Guide to the law’), an important work on law.

Religion was more problematic. The printing of Catehism calvinesc (‘Calvinist catechism’) in 1640 had generated a forceful reaction from Moldovan Archbishop Varlaam in Răspunsurile la catehismul calvinesc (‘Replies to the Calvinist catechism’) (1645).

Ukraine regularly provided the Romanian Orthodox Church of Moldova with books of worship in Old Church Slavonic which enjoyed great prestige and were considered a sociocultural privilege reserved for the high clergy and boyars. Meanwhile, there was a widespread refusal to admit that the language of the people (Romanian) was able correctly to express the meaning of the religious texts in Old Church Slavonic. Another accusation leveled at Romanian was that of contact with Calvinist, Protestant, and Catholic heretics, whose books had been translated into the language. That is why the Imitatio Christi had been translated into Old Church Slavonic (1635) and not Romanian by Udrişte Năsturel, a Wallachian scholar.

It was only in the second half of the 17th century that Old Church Slavonic lost its place as ‘the language of writing’. Archbishop Dosoftei (1624–1693) used Romanian in ecclesiastical texts, and is considered the first poet in the Romanian language on the basis of his translation of the Psalms. He had also translated the most important liturgical works, starting in 1679, officially recognized by the head of the Orthodox Church, the (ecumenical) Patriarch of Constantinople. In Muntenia, Prince Şerban Cantacuzino’s ‘Bucharest Bible’ (1688) represented an official linguistic, religious, and political transition from Old Church Slavonic to Romanian.

However, it was in the end the chroniclers Grigore Ureche, Miron Costin and his brother Nicolae Costin, Ion Neculce, the historian Constantin Cantacuzino, and the European scholar Dimitrie Cantemir who provided the model for written Romanian with their chronicles or history books (letopiseţe).

4.4 Humanism and the Awakening of National Consciousness

During the 17th century, the ideas of European humanism gradually percolated into the Romanian lands, and their influence gave Romanians the awareness of the double value of their own language: the historical value (their Latin origin: de la Râm ne tragem ‘it is from Rome that we originate’, as Moldovan chronicler Grigore Ureche put it) and the practical symbolic value “as a starting point for the general development of culture to the level of other, more advanced languages and the emancipation from foreign domination of any kind” (Bochmann, 2010, p. 82). One favorable factor was undoubtedly the creation and development of different humanist centers in the countries bordering the Romanian principalities (in Poland, Ukraine, and Constantinople, Latin and/or Greek were learned in high seats of learning).

In the 17th century, such seats of learning were also present in Bucharest and Iaşi, where primarily Greek was learned. Groups of intellectuals slowly formed. In his work Istoria ieroglifică (1705), Dimitrie Cantemir, prince of Moldova (who ruled in 1710–1711), expressed his conviction that it would be possible to describe and explain the most profound philosophical and scientific subjects in Romanian. He himself had written in Romanian numerous times on philosophy, theology, logic, and history.

The ‘birth’ of the written language as a written literary language (understood to mean ‘cultivated’, ‘standardized’, and ‘distant from the spoken language’) generated a need for suitable vocabulary for different text types: administrative, ecclesiastical, legal, private correspondence, and so on. There was thus a need to resort to new internal lexical creations and borrowings. In the writings of archbishops Varlaam and Dosoftei, who had helped establish Romanian as the language of liturgical texts, Slavic neologisms are treated with a certain identifiable reserve. In their texts, we instead find some ‘popular’ lexemes, now considered archaisms: căci că ‘for (conjunction)’‚ chiar ‘even’, (a) cure ‘to run’, (a) custa ‘live’, (a) dezvesti ‘to undress’, şerb ‘serf’, and so on (Bochmann, 2010, p. 89). Dosoftei also attempts some calques of Slavic terms, such as de-om-dragoste ‘love for humans’, rudă-începătoriu literally ‘kin-beginner’, ‘ancestor’, de bună rudă literally ‘of good kin’, ‘noble’, and so forth.

The Wallachian chroniclers Radu Greceanu and Radu Popescu use lexemes from the administration of the time and contemporary Old Church Slavonic lexemes such as clucer ‘lord steward’, crai ‘king’, dobândă ‘interest, gain’, ispravnic ‘subprefect’, norod ‘people’, obraz ‘cheek’, prost ‘bad, stupid’, zapis ‘document, deed’, and so on.

The most frequent neologisms are based on Latin, Turkish (see section 7.5), and Greek (see section 7.2), including a considerable number retained to this day: Miron Costin glosses words he expects readers to be unfamiliar with, such as consiliu: consiliu, latineşte este sfatulconsiliu: which means counsel in Latin’. Neculce took most of his Latin terms from Russian (where they had in turn been borrowed via German): filosof ‘philosopher’, gheneral ‘general’, ofiţer ‘(military) officer’, muzică ‘music’. Neculce’s texts also include a fairly large number of political, military, and commonplace terms from Turkish: bacşiş ‘tip (money), bribe’, caftan ‘kaftan’, cafè ‘coffee’, calabalâc ‘belongings, luggage’.

The documents and the translations of religious texts from the 16th century provide evidence of loans from Modern Greek (such as (to)pazie ‘topaz’, rodie ‘pomegranate’, drahmă ‘drachma’). These loans were numerous in the first half of the 17th century, particularly in the legal and administrative domains. Emanuela Timotin (2015b) has identified approximately 850 lexemes borrowed from Modern Greek between the 16th century and 1780.

Cantemir, who himself wrote books in Latin, uses the largest number of Latin-derived neologisms in Romanian texts.

Political, religious, and cultural events and the reawakening of national consciousness under the influence of European humanism meant that between 1775 and 1800, Transylvania became the center of gravity for the development of the Romanian language. The political, social, and cultural movement of the time has become known in the history of Romanian as Şcoala Ardeleană (the Transylvanian School). A group of Romanian intellectuals influenced by the Enlightenment carried out sustained national editorial and cultural activity to make their compatriots aware of Romanians’ Latin origins and the issue of Romanian civil rights in Transylvania.

The Treaty of Küçük-Kaynarca (1774) gave Russia access to the Black Sea. The Treaty of Adrianople (1829) ended Turkey’s monopoly over foreign trade in the principalities and gave Romanians access to European trade. The ideas of the French enlightenment penetrated all areas of life and had a growing influence in the Romanian principalities. The spread of Western culture was aided by the publication of a large number of books. Calendars (calendare) gave important information on trade, agriculture, politics, and vocations.

The Habsburgs’ imperial print works in Vienna, Budapest, Blaj, Sibiu, and Braşov, and other centers in Bucharest and Iaşi, published a considerable number of books written in Romanian. G. Lazăr set up teaching in the Romanian language in Bucharest (1818).

Transylvania had come under Austrian rule since the Treaty of Karlowitz (1699) and the Catholic Church had managed to introduce and legalize Greek-Catholic religion (‘the uniate church’), Catholic in its religious conception and Greek in its retention of the Orthodox liturgy. A significant proportion of the Romanian population joined the new religion, which was also important for the development of the language. The ‘uniate’ bishop had been installed in Blaj, the town where the Transylvanian School’s indigenous cultural movement had first taken root. This movement placed particular value on Romanian’s Latin origin. The future priests of the uniate church studied from then on primarily in Rome.

There was clearly little unity in the written language of the period, in any respect: diatopic, diastratic, and diamesic differences are evident, but at the end of this long phase, the Romanian language looked like a modern language, for its time, with a very rich lexicon.

5. Modern Romanian (1780–1945)

At the start of the 18th century and for a hundred years, the Romanian principalities (Wallachia and Moldova) came under the rule of Greek princes from the Phanar neighborhood of Constantinople. They had been sent by the Ottoman authorities to ensure the loyalty of the principalities, which had a special status. The Phanariot period was a period of significant Greek influence, which held back the development of Romanian as a written language while also, however, indirectly opening up Romanians’ access to the West. At the Phanariot court, Modern Greek was the official language, but French, a prestigious language, was often used as a language of conversation. Moreover, teaching of Old Church Slavonic, of primarily theological nature, was replaced by secular teaching at a higher cultural level in Modern Greek, French, and Romanian (Rosetti et al., 1971, p. 428).

Between 1770 and 1820, the language was enriched with lexemes from intellectual semantic fields pertaining to politics (anarhie ‘anarchy’, despotime ‘despotism’), medicine (dispnee ‘dyspnoea’, molimă ‘epidemic’, molipsitor ‘infectious, catching’), social life (agramat ‘illiterate’, filă ‘leaf’, (a) silabisi ‘to syllabize’), and the arts (teatru ‘theatre’). Many lexemes of Greek and Turkish influence had been replaced in the 19th century by neologisms derived primarily from Latin and from other Romance languages (particularly French). At this time, English lexemes also entered Romanian indirectly, primarily via French (for details and examples, see section 7.3.3).

In general, the 19th century was characterized by a major development of national consciousness and an overarching modernizing tendency. Legal and administrative reforms took place, and a significant number of magazines and newspapers were set up, publishing translations, among other things. Many Romanian students studied in Rome, London, Berlin, Vienna, and, above all, Paris.

Following the Crimean War, the Treaty of Paris (1856), and the audacious action of the Romanians in electing one and the same candidate, Alexandru Ioan Cuza, as sovereign of the two principalities allowed the unification of Moldova and Wallachia on January 24, 1859. Since the new state required official, constitutional, and administrative (legal, didactic, etc.) texts, a single standard for the language became a necessity. The Latin script, with an orthography based on the etymological principle (and not simply the Latinizing principle that the Transylvanian School encouraged; Bochmann, 1989a, 253; Bochmann, 1989b, 245) officially replaced the Cyrillic alphabet in the United Principalities and in Transylvania. In Iaşi (1860) and Bucharest (1864), two important universities were founded. The Societate Academică Română ‘Romanian Academic Society’ was also created, and in 1879 it received the official title of Academia Română ‘Romanian Academy’.

After the war of independence against the Ottoman Empire (1877) and the Congress of Berlin (1878), the Romanian principalities became independent. In 1881, Charles I of Hohenzollern was recognized as King of Romania by the European powers.

In the second half of the 19th century, important technical progress was made. At the end of World War I, Romania was united with Transylvania, Bucovina, and Bessarabia: From that point on, the state was România mare‚ ‘Great Romania’. Finally, in 1923, Romanian was recognized as limba oficială a statului român ‘the official language of Romanian state’.

From the 19th century onward, French played a central role in the development of the Romanian lexicon, through the quantity and significance of the words borrowed, many of them high-frequency words.

By the 19th century, French had become an international language of culture and communication, and this explains its influence on all European languages, particularly Romance. French emigration to various European countries following the 1789 revolution also played a role in spreading knowledge of the language internationally.

The dominance of French influence on Romanian vocabulary is due to specific factors such as the creation of trade links following the Treaty of Adrianople; the foundation of French consulates in the principalities; the introduction of French in teaching; and increasingly frequent and long direct contact with France by politicians, scientists, artists, and, in particular, Romanian students who attended French schools and universities. People who returned from travel or study in France enriched Romanian vocabulary with lexemes from oral French and with terms from numerous domains (scientific, technical, artistic, etc.) (for examples, see section 7.6.1).

6. Contemporary Romanian

In 1940, Romania lost Bessarabia, northern Bucovina (regions occupied by the Soviet Union), and southern Dobruja, which was ceded to Bulgaria. In 1948, Romania was forced to become a ‘socialist republic’: Republica Populară Română ‘the Romanian People’s Republic’ (December 30, 1947), a new name which was changed in 1965 to Republica Socialistă România ‘the Socialist Republic of Romania’.

6.1 The Socialist Period

During the Socialist period (1945–1989), the vocabulary of Romanian expanded to include a large number of new terms designating the new political, institutional, economic, ideological, and social realities of the newly installed dictatorial regime. A large number of these words are Sovietisms—that is, lexemes of Russian origin which reflect the Soviet institutional experience and communist ideology (Buchi, 2010; Costăchescu, 2018; Orioles, 2006, 2011). Some of these Sovietisms found their way into most European languages (kolhoze ‘kolkhoz’, cosmonaut ‘spaceman’, komsomol ‘komsomol’, etc.).

In Romanian, lexical doublets were often created, because the Sovietism (with its reference to life in the USSR) was used alongside a translation, calque, or semantic extension, which designated similar institutions in Romania (komsomol—UTC = Uniunea tineretului comunist ‘Union of Communist Youth’, kolhozCAP = Cooperativă agricolă colectivă de producţie ‘Collective Agricultural Production Farm’, politbiroubirou politic ‘politburo’, agitprop—secţie de agitaţie şi propagandă ‘agitation and propaganda section’, KGBsecuritate ‘(Department of State) Security’, etc.).

During this period, the language in official use in Romania notably lacked all the terms which expressed dissent against the socialist system (anti-Sovietisms), such as nomenclatură’ ‘nomenklatura’, samizdat ‘samizdat’, gulag ‘gulag’, aparatcic ‘apparatchik’, and so on. In capitalist countries, these terms entered the language through texts published by dissidents (books, newspapers, interviews, etc.), while in socialist countries they were purged by censorship. However, words of this kind also entered Romanian by oral transmission due to Western radio programs in Romanian.

The language used by official media was characterized by Sovietisms and ideological clichés, referred to as the ‘wooden language’ (Zafiu, 2007, pp. 27–39).

6.2 The Current Period

After the events of 1989 (the Romanian revolution), Romania became a liberal capitalist democracy. Its vocabulary has developed primarily in technical and institutional domains, as has been the case for vocabularies of languages around the world. At the start of the period, very rapid changes in vocabulary took place. A dictionary by Elena Trifan and Adrian Trifan (2003) included new lexemes which appeared in the press in 1990–2001. A significant proportion of these have already disappeared and many others are no longer perceived to be new.

Romania has become a member of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and the European Union, which has enriched its vocabulary with international terms such as audit ‘audit’, acquis comunitar ‘community acquis’, pre-aderare ‘pre-accession’, drept comunitar ‘community law’, implementare ‘implementation’, and so on.

Throughout the contemporary period, the number of specific abbreviations has grown, as in other languages: for example, ISU (= Inspectoratul General pentru Situaţii de urgenţă General District for Emergency Situations’), EEA (= Agenţia Europeană pentru Mediu ‘European Environment Agency’), FMI (= Fondul monetar internaţional ‘International Monetary Fund’).

7. Influences

7.1 Slavic Influence

7.1.1 The Influence of Old Slavic

The lexemes borrowed belong largely to everyday familiar semantic fields and refer largely to human beings, or to the characteristics and actions of humans: gât ‘neck’ gleznă ‘ankle’, obraz ‘cheek’, glas ‘voice’, gol ‘naked, empty’, lacom ‘greedy’, mândru ‘proud’ prost ‘stupid, poor (quality)’, vesel ‘cheerful’, vinovat ‘guilty’, (a) grăi ‘to speak’, (a se) obosi ’to tire’, (a) privi ‘to look at’, (a) primi, ‘to receive, to get’ (a) trăi ‘to live’.

It is striking that the semantic fields of love and friendship are represented almost without exception by Slavic lexemes: drag ‘dear, belaved’, dragoste ‘love’, iubire ‘love, affection’, prieten ‘friend’, and so on.

The terminology of rural agriculture life and animal husbandry in a broad sense, and the lexical field of nature and land forms show Slavic borrowings, such as (a) sădi ‘to plant’, brazdă ‘furrow’, cireadă ‘herd’, coteţ ‘henhouse’, grajd ‘animal house, cowshed’, plug ‘plough’, pogon ‘acre’, snop ‘sheaf’, spic ‘[botany.] ear’, ogor ‘(ploughed) field’, mac ‘poppy’, morcov ‘carrot’, drojdie ‘yeast’, oţet ‘vinegar’, ulei ‘oil’, deal ‘hill’, gârlă ‘brook’, izvor ‘spring’, luncă ‘watermeadow’, mlaştină ‘marsh’, omăt ‘snow’, peşteră ‘cave’, prăpastie ‘ravine, abyss’.

Also note that names of several different birds or animals are also of Slavic origin (cf. cocoş ‘cock’, gâscă ‘goose’, păstrăv ‘trout’, veveriţă ‘squirrel’, vrabie ‘sparrow’).

Most Slavic loans in common use across the Romanian-speaking area present features of southeastern Old Bulgarian.

A large proportion of Romanian toponyms (names of rivers and streams, names of towns and villages, land forms such as valleys, plains, etc.) are also of Slavic origin.

7.1.2 The Influence of Old Church Slavonic

Most Old Church Slavonic lexemes entered Romanian between the 14th and the 16th centuries, providing terminology for ecclesiastical functions, the organization of monastic life, church architecture, the names of sacred objects, and religion in general. Most terms in this area ultimately come from Greek, but Slavic mediation is often ensured by the phonetics, as is the case with the stressed vowel in popă ‘(parish) priest’< OCS popŭ < MGrk. pápas. Further loans of Greek origin which came via Old Church Slavonic are, for example, episcop ‘bishop’, mitropolit ‘archbishop’, etc. călugăr ‘monk’, monah ‘monk’, chilie ‘cell’, schit ‘hermitage, (small) convent’, ctitor ‘founder, benefactor (of a church, a monastery’), naos ‘nave’, paraclis ‘chapel’, biblie ‘Bible’, icoană ‘icon’ (cf., e.g., Mihăescu, 1966, p. 96). Of course, words indigenous to Slavonic also feature in this referential domain: for example, stareţ ‘abbot, superior’, podoabă ‘ornament, adornment’, troiţă ‘roadside crucifix’, pomană ‘alms, funeral repast’, post ‘fast(ing)’, slujbă ‘masss’, vecernie ‘vespers’. Many words from this domain remain in frequent use in the language today (cf. duh ‘ghost, spirit’, jertfă ‘sacrifice’, rai ‘heaven, paradise’, sfânt ‘saint, holy’). Here too, several words come from Greek, as, for example, iad ‘hell’.

As early as the 16th century, there were presses producing texts (including popular texts) in Old Church Slavonic. After the 16th century, Old Church Slavonic was in competition with Romanian, written in the Cyrillic alphabet (for details, cf. Stanciu-Istrate, 2017).

7.1.3 The Influence of Modern Slavic Languages

The Romanian lexicon contains items of Slavic origin due to geographical proximity. Unlike the Old Slavic lexical influence on Romanian, this type of adstrate generated more limited loans, and these loans were often limited to border regions. Some Bulgarian borrowings are specific to Muntenia (cf. (a) ciupi ‘to pinch’, (a) prăşi ‘to weed, to hoe’). These lexemes entered Romanian between the 14th and 15th centuries and were also dialectal in Bulgaria.

At the start of the 15th century, direct contact between Serbo-Croat and Romanian intensified. Most borrowings from Serbo-Croat too were limited to regional usage: for example, babiţă ‘pelican’, iorgovan ‘lilac’, or brată ‘brother’, from SCr. brat, which changed its semantics to ‘elderly brother’ or ‘brother-in-law’ in different Romanian dialects (Gămulescu, 1974, p. 93).

In Moldova and northern Transylvania, borrowings from eastern Slavic dialects, Russian, Ukrainian, and Polish have been maintained. Ukrainian items (cf. cuşmă ‘fur cap’ or hulub ‘pigeon’, synonyms of căciulă and porumbel) entered Romanian as early as the 12th and 13th centuries (Vascenco, 1959). Some older borrowings (cf. ciubotă ‘(high) boot’ and cobză ‘kobsa (kind of guitar)’) entered the literary language thanks to Moldovan and Transylvanian writers and have been retained to this day.

Many toponyms (names of rivers and streams, names of towns and villages, of land forms, plains, etc.) are of Slavic origin (see section 7.1.1). Emil Petrovici (cited in Bochmann, 2010, p. 44) concluded that the names in the south of the Romanian-speaking area show Bulgarian features (such as the consonant clusters [ʃt] and [ʒd]), while the names in the north and east of Transylvania, Maramureş, Bucovina, Moldova, and Bessarabia come from East Slavic, as they show the effect of Eastern Slavic sound changes such as [g] > [h] in Horodişte (Moldova), corresponding etymologically to Grădištea, the name of several towns in the South. However, Petrovici reports that many Romanian toponyms are not clearly attributable to one subgroup within Slavic (cf. Bistriţa, Cerna, Ialomiţa, Dâmboviţa, Prahova, Doftana, Crasna, Vâlcea and names of localities such as Craiova, Slănic, Predeal, Bran, Râmnic, Sibiu, Suceava, Târgovişte, etc.).

There are also a substantial number of anthroponyms of Slavic origin: Dan, Dragomir, Gheorghe, Ivan, Mihai, Mircea, Nicolae, Radu, Stan, Stoica, Vlad, and so on.

7.2 The Influence of Greek

As demonstrated in section 3.4, Greek borrowings may be direct or indirect.

Proceeding in chronological order, we can identify the following groups of borrowings: (a) Old Greek lexical items present in Danubian Latin (1st to 5th centuries), including Christian terminology: Grk. basilikḗ (stoá) > Lat. basilica > Ro. biserică ‘church’, Grk. ággelos > Lat. angelus > Ro. Înger ‘angel’; and (b) Byzantine Greek items (5th to 15th centuries) entered the Romanian lexicon directly or, most frequently (in the 10th to 13th centuries), via a South Slavic language, as seen in section 7.1.2. These terms refer to trade, administration, the Church, and commonplace vocabulary (cf. Grk. piperi > Bulgarian piper > Ro. Piper ‘pepper’; Grk. xarti > SCr. hartija > Ro. hârtie ‘paper’). In the 13th to 15th centuries, terms referring to ecclesiastical organization came into the language, having entered use in the Romanian Orthodox churches via the Slavic church, as did other lexemes referring to political, economic, and cultural life. Direct borrowings occurred most often when Dobruja belonged to Byzantium (971–1185). Some of the lexemes in this category have remained commonplace (folos ‘use, utility’, mânie ‘anger’, mătase ‘silk’, etc.).

Mihăescu (1966, p. 193, cited in Iliescu, 2007, p. 189) reports that 273 lexemes were borrowed from Byzantine Greek, of which only 22 were borrowed directly. Lexical items from Modern Greek entered Romanian in the 16th to 19th centuries. The time when the most significant borrowings were made was the Phanariot period (1711–1821), during which the Romanian principalities were led by Greek princes and nobles from Phanar. For over a century, Greek therefore enjoyed great political, cultural, and social prestige. Gáldi (1939) reports than over 1,200 Greek lexemes can be found in Romanian texts from this period.

The Greek lexemes which referred to political and administrative realities specific to the Phanariot period fell out of use in Romanian relatively quickly and were replaced by terms from French, Italian, and Latin. According to Gáldi (1939), around 150 lexemes which are neutral in terms of reference and connotation have remained firmly entrenched in the vocabulary of Standard Romanian, such as politicos ‘polite’, portocală ‘orange’, prosop ‘towel’, saltea ‘mattress’, spital ‘hospital’, filă ‘leaf’, plic ‘envelope’, teatru ‘theater’ (Bochmann, 2010, p. 51; Iliescu, 2007, pp. 191–192). The fundamental vocabulary of Graur (1954) contains 18 lexemes borrowed from Greek: folos ‘use, utility’, frică ‘fear’, pat ‘bed’, patimă ‘passion’, (a) pedepsi ‘to punish’, piper ‘pepper’, prisos ‘surplus, abondance’, proaspăt ‘fresh, new’, prosop ‘towel’, sigur ‘sure’, (a) sosi ‘to arrive’, (a) ursi ‘to cast a spell over somebody’, vopsi, ‘to dye’, and zahăr ‘sugar’ (just a few more—25 in all—in the 112-item basic vocabulary of Sala, 1999).

A few words which are frequent in current spoken Romanian have only been retained with a pejorative, or at least ironic, meaning (Iliescu, 2007, p. 193). This is because speakers wanted to replace Greek and Russian influence with Western influence and turned their backs on what was perceived as ‘Balkan’.

7.3 The Influence of Germanic Languages

7.3.1 German
Old German

The following lexemes are thought to be of old Germanic origin: ciuf/ciof ‘tuft (of hair)’, nasture ‘button’, rapăn ‘scurf, dirt (of the skin)’, strugure ‘grapes’, targă ‘stretcher’ (Bochmann, 2010, p. 55).

Medieval and Modern German

Research on the path taken by Romanian lexemes of German origin demonstrates the difficulty in drawing precise conclusions as to the origin of the borrowings: Could a lexeme be a borrowing from pre-18th-century Transylvanian ‘Saxon’, from Swabian, from Austrian German, or from (written or oral) Modern German? Some other lexemes have multiple etymologies (maior ‘major’, ofiţer ‘officer’, protocol ‘protocol’).

By and large, lexemes of German origin belong to the domain of clothing, the army, trade, professions, and on: şpiţ ‘spitz’, şorţ ‘apron’, reghiment ‘regiment’, rolă ‘roll’, joagăr ‘sawmill’, rabat ‘rebate, reduction’, şurub ‘screw’, matriţă ‘mold’, etc.

Other lexemes (cf. haltă ‘flag station, halt’, lozincă ‘slogan’, şmecher ‘sly, cunning’, turn ‘tower’, şanţ ‘ditch’, şopron ‘shed, penthouse’) are very frequent in everyday language.

The influence of German on vernacular and dialectal Romanian varied depending on the regions and population groups. It was stronger in Transylvania than elsewhere, and the language of Austrian immigrants had a major influence on the (vernacular) Romanian language of Banat.

More important (for the language as a whole, or for certain professions, or/and more frequently used) lexemes, which reached the principalities following different paths, have remained commonplace terms and form part of the language to this day. This category includes ştofă ‘cloth’, şnur ‘cord’, şină ‘(railway) track, rail’—a term already found in Dosoftei. A number of lexemes refer to eating and drinking, such as cartof ‘potato’, chiflă ‘roll’, crenvurst ‘Prague sausage’, griş ‘semolina’, şniţel ‘(wiener) schnitzel’, şuncă ‘ham’, şvaiţer ‘Swiss cheese’, halbă ‘beer glass, tankard’.

7.3.3 English

English started to exert an influence on Romanian as early as the 18th century. This influence began to intensify after World War II, though it was not perceived positively by the socialist totalitarian regime. Romanian has borrowed freely from English from 1989, as have all Romance languages. The influence of English is not tied to certain political structures but rather is an international (European and worldwide) phenomenon, with numerous possible explanations (Avram, 1997, p. 8). Notably, a significant proportion of both English and Romanian vocabulary (around 40% of lexemes) is of French origin (M. Iliescu, 2012, 2013, p. 40).

Terms derived (directly or indirectly) from English have entered Romanian, and also other Romance languages. For example, the overwhelming majority of Romanian lexemes referring to electronic communication is from English (desktop, software, email).

Parasynonyms have often specialized in function; being restricted to certain domains and/or usage depends on the languages known and used by speakers in a given situation: computer (English)/ordinateur (French).

One form of English influence now apparent in Romanian and other Romance languages is the adoption of conversational phrases and discourse markers such as O.K. [okei], cool.

Many English lexemes retain their original spelling and pronunciation in Romanian (cf. first lady, second hand, baby-sitter, hockey, volley, broker, dealer, site, duty-free); others have been adapted to the phonology, orthography, and morphology of Romanian (fotbal ‘football’, (a) scana ‘to scan’, (a) printa ‘to print’).

7.4 The Influence of Hungarian

Florica Dimitrescu (1978) reports that many lexemes of Hungarian origin are dialectal words spread over large dialect areas. They can be divided into two groups: (a) lexemes specific to northern Transylvania (Maramureş) and Moldova and (b) lexemes specific to Transylvania and Wallachia. There are also lexemes used throughout Romania which are not dialectal (cf. Tamás, 1967).

Romanian borrowings from Hungarian refer primarily to administration, social structures, trade, the legal system, and the army (cf. ban ‘coin’, cheltui ‘to spend’, dijmă ‘quitrent, metayage’, hotar ‘border’, iobag ‘serf’, meşter ‘craftsman’, neam ‘people, origin, family’, oraş, ‘town’). Even more numerous are the terms employed in everyday, nonspecialist language, such as belşug ‘abundance’, (a) chibzui ‘to think over’, chip ‘face, appearance’, chin ‘torment’ (a) făgădui ‘to promise’, fel ‘kind, type, sort’, gând ‘thought’, (a) îngădui ‘to allow’, (a) întâlni ‘to meet’, seamă ‘kind, sort’. Thirty-two Hungarian lexemes form part of the basic vocabulary (Sala, 1999, p. 110).

7.5 The Influence of Turkish

The lexical fields most rich in Turkish borrowings are those of accommodation (chirie ‘(logement) rent’, divan ‘divan (bed)’, odaie ‘room’, tavan ‘ceiling’, duşumea ‘floor’, geam ‘window pane’ dulap ‘cupboard’, perdea ‘curtain’, raft ‘shelf’, cearșeaf ‘bed sheet’, farfurie ‘plate’, ibric ‘coffee pot’, tutun ‘tobacco’), food (cafea ‘coffee’, ciorbă ‘julienne soup’, iaurt ‘yoghurt’, chiftea, ‘minced-meat ball’, ghiveci ‘vegetable hotchpotch’, musaca ‘moussaka’, pilaf ‘pilaf’, halvà ‘khalva’, rachiu ‘brandy’, sarma ‘roll of cabbage or vine leaves’), trade (para ‘farthing, penny’ cântar, ‘balance’ samsar ‘go-between, speculator’, tejghea ‘counter’, muşteriu ‘customer’), and clothing (basma ‘kerchief’, maramă ‘(silk) head kerchief’, ciorap ‘stocking’). There are many other commonplace lexemes (nouns and adjectives) of Turkish origin (chibrit ‘match’, chef ‘feast, banquet’), including a number of adjectives with negative or pejorative connotations (murdar ‘dirty’, chior ‘short-sighted, blind in one eye’, tembel ‘daft’).

The basic vocabulary only includes 18 Turkish lexemes (Sala, 1999, p. 112).

There are also agentive and adjectival suffixes of Turkish origin which remain very productive (such as -giu and -iu: zarzavagiu ‘greengrocer’, ruginiu ‘rust-colored’).

7.6 Influence of Learnèd Latin and Romance Languages

Latin neologisms have enriched the Romance languages as a whole, starting on a large scale in the Middle Ages (for the influence of Latin on Old Romanian, see Chivu et al., 1992). Learnèd Latin lexemes came into Romanian in the 18th century, in particular thanks to the Transylvanian School. This process then continued, given the influence of the Latinist school (1840–1880), though some borrowings were later abandoned as the Latinist school was felt to have gone too far. The most important borrowings for the development of Romanian vocabulary were those from French. This process, often “re-Romanization,” reinforced the Romance character of Romanian.

Alongside Latin, French, and Italian neologisms, a smaller number of Spanish and Portuguese lexemes also entered Romanian following the same path.

7.6.1 French

At the earliest stage of French influence (end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries), French lexemes entered Romanian via other languages such as German (reghiment ‘regiment’) or Russian (epolet ‘epaulette’).

At the earliest stage of French influence (end of the 18th and start of the 19th centuries), French lexemes entered Romanian via other languages such as German (reghiment ‘regiment’), or Russian (epolet ‘epaulette’). Russian is commonly held to be responsible for the lion’s share of military terminology (cf. Rosetti et al., 1971, p. 583).

Throughout the 19th century, and continuing to this day, French lexemes have come into all domains of the lexicon: administrative (prefect ‘prefect’, jandarm ‘gendarme’, notar ‘notary (public)’, secretar ‘secretary’), legal (anchetă ‘investigation’, procuror ‘public prosecutor’, proces ‘trial’, avocat, ‘lawyer, barrister’, delict ‘offense’, sechestru ‘impoundment’), médical (oculist ‘eye specialist, oculist’, sanatoriu ‘sanatorium’, anemie ‘aneamia’, infirmier(ă) ‘(male/female) nurse’, scleroză ‘arteriosclerosis’), construction and architecture (birou ‘office’, cabinet ‘(law, notary) firm/ office, surgery’, etaj ‘story’, mansardă ‘attic’, salon ‘lounge, sitting room’), means of transport (aeroport ‘airport’, (a) ateriza ‘to land’, ‘avion’ ‘(air)plane’, (a) decola ‘to take off’, gară ‘(railway) station’, volan ‘steering wheel’), and all areas of the vocabulary (arts, food, teaching, social relations, etc.). Our examples can only cover a few commonplace terms: abonament ‘subscription, season ticket’, adresă ‘address’, atac ‘attack’, colier ‘necklace’, compliment ‘compliment’, crimă ‘crime’, curaj, ‘courage’, dactilografă ‘typist’, decor ‘set, decor, setting’, democrat ‘democratic’, destin ‘fate’, gaz ‘gas(eous body)’, jurnal ‘newspaper’, listă ‘list’, localitate ‘locality’, machiaj ‘make-up’, magazin ‘shop, store’, maiou ‘vest, jersey’, maladie ‘disease, illness’, mamifer ‘mammal’, (a) mecaniza ‘to mechanize’, manechin ‘model’, pistol ‘pistol, gun’, priză ‘power point’, redactor ‘editor’, robinet' faucet, tap’, santinelă ‘sentry’, schelet ‘skeleton’, scrutin ‘ballot’, secretară ‘secretary’, and so on.

Around 40% of current Romanian vocabulary is of French origin (see section 7.3.3), including many verbs (a deregla ‘to deregulate’, a deranja ‘to disturb’); root stress, in the case of polysyllabic roots, often proves French, as opposed to Italian, origin (see section 7.7.2), for instance, a ocupa ‘to occupy’, a formula ‘to formulate’ have paroxytonic root stress (3sg ocupă [oˈkupǝ], formulă [forˈmulə]), contrary to Italian (3sg òccupa, fòrmula).2

7.6.2 Italian

Links to Italian humanism are attested as early as the 14th century. Furthermore, Italian humanists were the first to recognize the Latin origin of Romanian (Crößmann-Osterloh, 1985, p. 42).

Some lexemes of Italian origin, in particular mathematical and grammatical terms (Crößmann-Osterloh, 1985, p. 42), entered Romanian via Modern Greek during the Phanariot period. There was a certain Italianizing tendency in the first half of the 19th century, thanks to the work of Ion Heliade Rădulescu, a poet, grammarian, and politician (1802–1872), and to his pupils.

Italian has had an influence on the general vocabulary (inginer ‘engineer’, speranţă ‘hope’, locotenent ‘lieutenant’, maestru ‘master, mentor’, piaţă ‘square, market’), and in particular on musical terminology (piculină ‘piccolo (flute)’, tril ‘trill’, etc.). Italian is also a source for lexical items with multiple etymologies.3

7.7 The Influence of Romani

The presence of the Roma in Romania is attested from the end of the 14th century. The Roma are a nomadic people whose origins are in northern India and who speak an Indian language (Romani). This language, which exists almost exclusively in oral form, presents numerous varieties in Europe, which are influenced by the majority language of the country where the Roma group settled. A standard reference variety does not exist.

Most Romani lexemes which have entered Romanian form part of slang. From slang, some have made their way into informal spoken language: mişto ‘cool, very good/well’, biştari ‘money’, gagică ‘mistress, girlfriend’, a mardi ‘beat the crap out of’, barosan ‘big, huge, (fig.) a big shot/deal’, (a) hali ‘to eat, to wolf down’. In some cases, Romani words are involved in multiple etymologies, as is the case, for example, for diliu/deliu ‘savage, brutal person’ whose etymon is Trk. deli ‘crazy person’ and Romani diló/dilí) according to Suciu (2006, p. 239), while the word is a plain Turkism according to Ciorănescu (2002, p. 284).

8. Conclusion

The history of the Romanian lexicon demonstrates one universal feature of language: Vocabularies, or at least those that have been recorded, reflect the national and international developments of social history.


I would like to express my gratitude to my friend and colleague, Professor Adriana Costăchescu, of the University of Craiova, who contributed significantly to the writing of this article, and also to my young colleague Emanuela Timotin (Bucharest Linguistics Institute) who made me aware of more recent literature and who, on reading the text, made very valuable observations.

Note from the Editors: Maria Iliescu (June 1, 1927–January 21, 2020) could not put the finishing touches on this article. Martin Maiden and Michele Loporcaro edited the text, trying to do justice to the scholarship of this renowned Romanian scholar who had so generously agreed to contribute to this Encyclopedia.


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  • 1. The proportion of the Romanian lexicon which is ultimately of Latin origin increases significantly if one considers Latin lexemes which have entered the language indirectly. Thus, for example, cămară [kǝˈmarǝ] ‘pantry, larder’ or felie [feˈlie] ‘slice’ ultimately go back to Lat. camera and offella, originally meaning ‘vault, ceiling’ and ‘small flat loaf’ which came to mean ‘room’ and ‘slice’ in late Latin, as witnessed by the Romance outcomes listed in REW (Meyer-Lübke, 1935, 1545, 6042). However, both entered Romanian via Greek, as attested by their stress pattern, which is explained by Middle Greek kamára and phellí (Mihăescu, 1966, p. 117). Greek is also the direct source of sigur ‘sure’, which ultimately goes back to Lat. securus but, as attested by its voiced -g-, entered Greek as part of the host of Venetian loanwords (Vnt. siguro) that this language acquired over the centuries. A large number of words of Latin origin also entered the Romanian lexicon via French and Italian (cf. section 7.6).

  • 2. For monosyllables, this criterion is not available, so there may be grounds for doubts, as, for example, for caz ‘case’, which is from French according to Busuioc et al. (2009, p. 144) but from Italian according to Ciorănescu (2002, p. 162).

  • 3. Italian influence on Old Romanian is investigated by Chivu (1994).